29 May 2010

The Town As A Character

I know, I know, two posts in one day? But hear me out, an insane idea flitted through my head.

Reading the Chatty DM blog, somebody mentioned the term "burning wheel", where two or more forces are vying against each other. Often, no thought has gone into what happens when the players lose, and of any ideas to get people back into the game. This is especially important in old-school games, one would think, as character mortality rate can be high, and if the entire party is slain, then what makes the new characters obligated in the least to continue on where the old characters left off? How many people can be realistically imprisoned in the Temple of the Plague Orcs to replace fallen characters with new ones?

That's when it hit me; take an element from the "endgame" of old-school play, that of fiefdoms and the political control of lands, and make it a central element. What if your players came together and created a town, city, or village as though it were a character, with nebulously defined characteristics (NOT game mechanics). For example, a party could be from the town of Helmsford, a river town with a healthy economy, ruled by a benevolent and elderly Duke who lives in a great tower-keep that is open to most. The guards wear blue and green checked hauberks as identification, and the town is known for its hard-working, honest population as well as the rare fish that spawns in their riverbed and few other places.

When the party leaves to combat Threat #6, they are slain. But the heroes aren't alone in a vacuum, nor is the mission over. When the heroes die, perhaps the Drow slave-raiders take slaves of many of the people of Helmsford, but maybe Old Brian, the blacksmith and Gilgar the Rotund, and Limlo the horse thief band together in this horrible time and defend the town from attack; in other words, each and every hero is tied into the game as a whole by a single city. As the game goes on, each new hero is better and better defined, as the more brave people become the new heroes and are possibly related in some obscure way to the heroes. For example, Old Brian's steel had armed the mighty Poltroon, slayer of ghouls, and seeing his weapons used in such a way inspired him, aged though he may be, to become something better than he was, to try and make the world a better place.

This sort of thing may not work in a more sword and sorcery oriented tale, with each and every character being more vagabond than hero, but then again, look at the Elric series and the other writings of M. Moorcock. The mythical city of Tamelorn was as detailed and interesting as any city, with heros banding together to defend it from threats throughout time. Maybe the Home City as character requires a similarly important and passion-inspiring place for heroes to call its own, and perhaps not.

Certainly, though, it's worth a thought, which is why it had to be written down in such a long and winding blog post.

Inspiration and Daily Diligence

There are a great many writers in the world whose writing is a matter of clockwork, it seems. They put their Writing Hat on, get out their quills and parchment, and produce prose that flows, sentences that ebb and cling, and allusions that spark the interest of every man, woman, and child who's blessed with seeing such works.

Unfortunately, I personally am not that kind of writer. Like all things, interest in writing (and blogging) ebbs and flows, and comes and goes. It goes where it will, when it will. Sometimes it's no problem to sit for six hours and attempt to re-write the entire magic system, with all the spells fleshed out from level 0 to level 7, and sometimes even collecting thoughts to smash into a 200 word blog post is the utmost torture. 

So I ask anybody who read this: How do you get inspiration to keep writing? If you're one of those people who produces 1000+ word blog posts every single day, how do you maintain the dedication? The drive? Are you a mutant? Or am I?

27 May 2010

Epic Pooh

As in, the Moorcock essay of the same name. I've long since been critical of the Lord of the Rings and it's insane influence amongst the fantasy faithful. It's one of the reasons that every campaign setting and fantasy story from here to sundown has beautiful elves, taciturn dwarves, cruel orcs, and a small band of men valiantly fighting against overarching evil, winning through due only to the pureness of their heart and of their mission.

I've disliked it for a long time, preferring the more earthy, brilliant, and much more well-written works of both R.E. Howard, Terry Pratchett, and Micheal Moorcock, and I recommend those three writers to anybody who makes the mistake of mentioning books to me.

But today I discovered something; Micheal Moorcock has actually sat down and written a criticism of exactly the same things. What are the odds, one must wonder?

Epic Pooh

18 May 2010

Changing Magic Around

The more I look at the magic in the basic Labyrinth Lord game, the more I want to change it. It's not that the spells aren't evocative enough, or effective enough, or that they're terrible. Really, it's not.

17 May 2010

Ditching Elves, Dwarves, and Halflings

A thought struck me.

To be entirely honest, it struck sometime last week, but this is the first time I've really put any thought into it. That is, the thought of ditching or changing entirely the demihumans. See, it came about when I was explaining to one of my players that he doesn't have to be an "Elf" if he doesn't want to. He can take the class and be a half-dragon dude, or a humanoid rhinocerous or whatever it is he likes. He eventually decided to play up the elfiness of it all (not the least of which was because he fully expected the elf to die before the night was over), but the short conversation in my head left reverberating echoes in my noggin.

See, I've never really liked other fantasy races, at least not in D&D and other games where I'm the one having to make up the entire world. They're either played for laughs, or they're basically skinny/short/beautiful/ugly/hairy/goofy humans who live in places where humans normally don't. There's no real sense of alien-ness to them, which I think is a huge part of life.

To use a real-life example, I was watching  a show about some african tribesmen where the women paint themselves red and have all these interesting beliefs and omens and tribal shamans and whatnot. It was absolutely fascinating, but their worldview was entirely alien. I mean, I'm a middle-class college student in a fairly secular society, and they're all hunters and farmers living in a world of spiritual contact with spirits or whatever it is they believe. If me and them had a talk on the streets (assuming we could speak the same language) I'm not sure we'd get anywhere at all.

And so it would be with elves, dwarves, and halflings, at least. Their world-view, their ideas, their senses of duty and self preservation and everything about them would be different, if for no other reason than that they live in relative isolation, with their own languages and cultures and, hell, lifespans.

So I think that, next time I run Labyrinth Lord, I'll have the elf turned into a human Spell-Sword, the dwarf into a Dungeoneer, and the Halfling into, I dunno, a Scout, with their bonus to armor class explained away as quickness and their inability to use big weapons as a fighting style. Or something.

This way, there can still be dwarves, elves, and halflings, just like there are still ogres, orcs, demons, and kobolds, but they're potential enemies and roadblocks instead of Grumpy McBeardybeard, greedy, stout, and loyal face-hammerer.

I think any other treatment is unfair to the source material that the demi-humans come from.

15 May 2010

Armor and Dodging: A couple of house rules.

One of the things that has had a wierd place in my mind has been movement and armor in D&D, especially when I was in my 3rd edition phase. This was about the same time that the Lord of the Rings came out, and the Ranger was Aragorn, clearly. He got bonus feats when he was in leather, which explains why he wore it, but then went for heavier armor classes when he was in mass combat, which is significantly more dangerous. 

Which sort of makes sense, if you buy the idea that somebody who makes a dedicated study to a fighting style can't use that style when they change armor for any reason. Armor-induced amnesia, perhaps? 

But regardless, the way that the Secret of Steel works is that armor grants you additional Toughness, which is what you roll when you get hit, but it reduces your Defense score. In other words, armor makes you easier to hit, but harder to hurt, which by all accounts is exactly what it does. Having high armor doesn't mean that arrows and crossbow bolts don't hurt you, it just means that it doesn't hurt as much as it should were you unarmored.

Since I'm currently playing Labyrinth Lord, I've been thinking about ways to put this same sort of system in LL, without totally changing the nature of the game. It's something that bothers me, to be sure, but where to go with it? There's no way that reversing the armor class tables and giving the heavier armor some sort of "damage reduction" would work out all that well- although it's certainly a thought.

Especially if one decided to do the same with monsters, although that can be a more difficult case to decide. In a lot of cases, monsters have "natural armor" in addition to being difficult to hit due to armor plates or incredible monstrous agility or what-have-you. For example, a griffin in this example would probably have the same armor class, since they're not especially tough, but a dragon would certainly have a much lower armor class, since they're not particularly large, but they're very tough.

But would this make tougher monsters even tougher? It works in The Secret of Steel because armor is abstracted to three classes; Light, Medium, and Heavy, with each one decreasing Defense by a little more and increasing Toughness a little more. Would there necessarily be any difference between banded and splint? And would it increase power-gaming and munchkin-ing? I suppose it depends on how it's handled, honestly, but it's something to think about.

11 May 2010

The Acolyte

If you prefer a .pdf version of the file, it's under the Downloadable Files section of this blog. Otherwise, the full text is below.

The Acolyte
A cleric variant designed for use with Labyrinth Lord and compatible with any other “classic” edition role-playing game.

07 May 2010

Temple of the Plague Orcs: Almost Complete

My project of the last month is nearly complete. I've got the entire document written up, formatting's just about done, and everything's almost exactly where it needs to be. It's an exciting time!

04 May 2010

Temple of the Plague Orcs

My first ever module, the Temple of the Plague Orcs is nearing completion. I've got a the main idea down, stats for the plague orcs, writeups for most of the rooms, and ideas of how and where everything goes. It's coming along swimmingly, actually. I'm kind of surprised. So surprised, in fact, that there's surprisingly little to say.

02 May 2010

Fantasy Coinage: Long Live the Silver Standard!

For the Secret of Steel, I'd known that I would go by the silver standard as soon as I made the game. It wasn't even a question- it was something that I knew had to be done. Why?